Pike National Forest, or How One Hula Hoop and a Tin Bucket Changed my Life

Snow-Packed in Pike National Forest

There is something otherworldly about giant pine trees swaying in glittery white dust, and sometimes the movement of the trees in the wind is deafening. The snow feels light and soft, but it only takes a couple of hours of accumulation to ensure that a person will not be traveling the surrounding mountain roads anytime soon.

It’s warm and cozy inside the little Jellybean camper, though, with my toes scrunched up near a heater in the corner and a hot cup of butterscotch coffee in my hands, so what better time to write about the rugged off-grid life than while snowed in within the wooded mountains of Pike National Forest?

Pike National Forest is our go-to location for unplugging from society (spotty cell phone service, no television reception, no internet connection), which is great for the wandering soul, but can undoubtedly come with challenges. We had planned to stay in Pike for its scheduled stretch of the two week cycle knowing that we would get snow here, so we’ve had to adjust ourselves accordingly. That means that certain perks to staying in Pike are limited, including the use of our beloved outdoor shower.

Yes, that’s outdoor shower. And yes, it’s beloved.

Why do We Need an Outdoor Shower?

We are always finding new resourceful ways to keep up with the necessities of life while off the grid — necessities such as eating, sleeping, and bathing — which means we are always utilizing creative ways of doing seemingly mundane things, like taking a shower. Most of us don’t really question where our water comes from or goes to when we turn on the faucet, but when living off-grid, water becomes the center of your world.

Out little Shasta has a 41 gallon freshwater tank that pumps water to the kitchen sink, bathroom toilet, and bathroom shower. This was a huge selling point to us when shopping for a camper, as it gives us the option to store drinking water for days, as well as giving us full use of our bathroom wherever we are. However, the camper’s separate holding tank (where all of the used water goes) is only about half of the size of the freshwater tank, so we have to conserve that space, and we prefer to save it for more important bathroom business.

In other words, we save the holding tank for poo.

Since everything that runs down the drain ends up in the holding tank, this tank has to be emptied (or dumped, as it’s unfortunately called) every few days, depending on how quickly it fills. Most of the really big RV’s and tiny house mansions have both black water and grey water holding tanks (black for septic, grey for everything else), but in a little bitty house like ours, everything is going to end up in the same place.

These tanks must be emptied at designated dumping stations, so this part of the stay or trip must be planned around, too. Luckily for me, Sean is usually in charge of emptying the tanks at the station, which involves connecting a certain hose from the outside of the camper to a sewage drain in the ground, and pulling a lever to release the tank contents through the hose and into the drain. Water is then flushed through the holding tank and hose to clean everything out.

It can be gross and scary if you don’t know what you’re doing…

We made the rookie mistake once of traveling the steep and winding mountain roads with a way too full holding tank, and it did not end well. If liquid can go down a drain, it can come back up it. And it will end up in the shower.

So, we try to limit what goes into the holding tank when we can.

One Hula Hoop, Two Shower Curtains, and a Bucket

I’m not sure where exactly the plan came from, but somewhere among a Pinterest idea, a quickly filling holding tank, and a particularly muddy hike, we decided to make the outdoor shower.

The Pinterest Inspiration

Fortunately, we already owned a solar shower for tent camping, which sounds a bit fancier than it actually is. The solar shower is basically a large insulated container, or bag, that when placed in sunlight for a couple of hours, will heat up the four or five gallons of water inside. I’d wanted to try it since I first saw it in our camping gear — the hippies on the box advertised it as “the camper’s delight,” and they always looked like they were having a great time…

First, we hung two shower curtains around a hula hoop, each one overlapping the other a bit at the part. We then used a couple of bungee cords to hang the hoop from a tree branch near the camper, and placed a small metal bucket inside the shower curtains to stand in. Lastly, we hung the solar shower from a tree branch above the hoop, and voilà! Outdoor shower!

I was pretty squeamish at first, going out into the chilly mountain air with nothing but a towel and flip flops, but it’s now one of my favorite things about staying in Pike.

Our spot in the woods is very secluded, and when it’s not illuminated with bright silvery moonlight, we can catch narrow glimpses through the trees of sparkling city lights below.

I prefer for my showers to be practically scalding hot, so I like to add a few cups of boiling water from the camper into the solar shower container. The hot steam billows and rolls inside the shower curtains, and the water collecting in the bucket stays nice and warm.

It’s really quite lovely.

Of course, a new set of challenges arises, as it does with anything that differs from the comfort zone. Waiting for the solar shower to heat up can take at least two hours, and letting it get cold before using it could make it completely useless until the next day. And although we have never had cold water, the walk in open air back to the camper afterward can be frigid.

There’s also bears. There’s always just bears.

We have never seen a bear, and I’d still die peacefully without ever seeing one. But this is a national forest, so we always take caution and bring bear mace with us every time we leave the house, even to the outdoor shower.

All in All, We Love it Out Here

I think one of the reasons we enjoy staying in Pike is because we know that even though it is pretty rugged, we don’t have to stay here if we don’t want to. If we would rather stay hooked up in the city by bouncing around RV parks and paying a daily rate, we can.

But part of the decision to take this route was to get out of the city, and the feeling of anxious attachment that goes away when the internet connection goes away is always a pleasant change. Plus, we know the exact spot onsite where our cell phones can text and call, and a few minutes drive down the mountain puts us back in range for full use of the phone and internet.

So, don’t worry, mom.

There is much more to tell about our time spent out here, and I will, eventually. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy our little snowy resort in the mountains, and maybe even upgrade from flip flops to snow boots and head out for a wintry outdoor shower.

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